If you’re a small business owner, I’m sure you’ve experienced what I’m about to say in the flesh: “Setting goals is easy, executing is hard.”
Granted, you’re probably thinking: duh, tell me something I don’t already know...
Now, we both agree that execution is always harder than setting goals — one thing is writing words on a whiteboard, another is to put them into practice in the real world.
But how “hard” the hard part is has a lot less to do with the task at hand than what you think. In fact, the complexity of the goal itself is not what makes it hard to execute. What makes it hard is your internal resistance to the execution.
Let me explain...
If you’re setting stretch goals for your business, you’ll be pushing yourself and everyone else involved outside of your comfort zone.
You might be wired to push harder than your employees because you’re the boss and there’s much more at stake for you, but both you and your staff will be faced with a psychological wall of resistance all the same.
The source of this resistance is based on human nature. We can only be free of internal barriers when we know exactly what we’re doing and don’t expect anything to change, which of course isn’t actually ever possible because we only think we know exactly what we’re doing.
If you’ve been doing the same job for years, day in and day out, you won’t experience much internal resistance because all the tasks associated with your job have been pre-established and you have developed the muscle memory required to make it second nature.
But while your level of self-confidence is highest when you do the same thing over and over again, your prospects for growth will be limited. And if other competitors develop the same skills and jump into the fold, your market share will begin to erode.
So, yes, being “comfortable” at what you do may allow you to relax on the job, but this feeling won’t last long in the open market.
Setting Stretch Goals
Now, in order to grow you have to set goals that will stretch you and your staff outside your circle of comfort, perhaps forcing you to develop new skills or new expertise or expanding into new markets you have little experience with.
As a former athlete, the example I share in my new book Getting Naked, is that of exercise. You can’t get fitter unless you increase the resistance you apply to your muscles — that’s why they call it resistance training!
And as you begin to face challenges, your self-confidence may begin to waiver, making you question some of your choices and cast doubt on the effectiveness of your actions.
Your self-esteem is tested and your mood begins to change. Perhaps you’re more irritable, you may snap at others in your circle.
You’re now too invested in your new path (both financially and emotionally) and it’s too late to pull back without facing consequences.
At this stage, you no longer rule over your actions and reactions, you ego does. And as it begins to feel threatened by the uncertainty of the uncharted path you’ve embarked on, with all its challenges and difficulties, your ego starts to act out.
Fear sets in and you begin to experience resistance, and your new path becomes a grind. It feels like you’re all of a sudden surrounded by negative energy and your actions become more labored…
Okay, enough with the downer stuff!
Here’s the good news: The resistance that you’re experiencing is not coming from the environment, it’s 100% internal and it’s a defense mechanism that your ego is using to force you to go back inside your circle of comfort.
Now, there's not much I can help you with the inherent complexity of the tasks at hand, those are things you and I have no control over.
Where I can help you is in dissolving your internal resistance to remove the psychological ballasts that are weighing you down and making you doubt yourself, thus impeding your progress.
The main job of your ego is to protect its image of superiority and self-righteousness. For example, when someone hurls an insult at you and you feel your blood boiling (say, you cut someone off without realizing it), that’s your ego trying to protect itself from injury.
If you’re superior to others, how dare they try to cut you down in size by hurling an insult?
Or when you’re in the middle of a heated argument with a friend about who's a better quarterback and you can’t stop arguing until you’ve proven you’re right, again, this is your ego at work behind the scenes (as an aside you can read this post on Self Awareness if you’d like to understand more about how your ego is crafted.)
Now, when you’re trying to expand outside your circle of comfort at work, you’re going to have to welcome a measure of uncertainty into your life and your ego will want none of it, so it'll begin to pull the necessary psychological strings to get you to stop and go back into your circle.
But if you learn to undo the tie between your ego and your actions, you’ll have the freedom of thought and action to face any challenges while training all of your faculties to overcome them unimpeded by internal resistance.
When you manage to achieve this state, you’ll be able to come up with creative solutions to problems, you’ll look at issues from a better perspective and easily overcome barriers on your way to achieving the results you’re seeking.
The Million Dollar Question
How do you go about disconnecting your ego from your goals?
Simple, by being present in everything you do.
Here’s the thing: you can choose to live two lives: real life, happening in real time, second by second, which can only be lived in the present moment. Or you can live the melodrama of thoughts that’s playing out in your mind.
This melodrama isn’t grounded in reality but in a movie that your ego is directing that involves your past (perhaps regrets from previous experiences) and your future (anxiety or insecurities about what’s to come).
Note that, in both cases, the present is completely absent. In fact, your ego fears the present moment with all its might, because it’s the only thing in the world it has no control over.
So, whenever you set out to accomplish your day’s tasks, it’ll fight tooth and nail to keep you out of the present moment (where you need to be in order to creatively problem solve) and instead it’ll bombard your mind with thoughts about the past and future, robbing you of the present.
That’s precisely where your internal resistance originates.
The Way Out
If you manage to ignore those thoughts of regret from the past and uncertainty and fear about the future, you’ll be on your way to a life where execution of your goals is no longer psychologically hard, it just is what it is and then you deal with it creatively.
When you develop the mental muscles to constantly bring you back to the present moment, you’ll begin to stop judging your actions and your circumstances and instead focus on the tasks that are needed to achieve meaningful results.
For example, you may have put in a lot of effort to create a great sales package for a promising new prospect only to be outbid by a competitor.
So instead of blaming yourself or others on your team, or getting into a bidding war, take the time instead to creatively canvas a much larger list of prospects and come up with a plan to double or triple your outreach efforts to increase your chances of a successful outcome.
Perhaps, you need to reach out to less competitive verticals you haven’t thought about before, or even outreach to other countries if your service allows it.
Here’s an example...
At the height of the covid pandemic, many U.S. based service businesses started branching out their outreach to prospects in Australia and New Zealand, who handled the virus much better and didn't shut down their economies, and that allowed those businesses to begin thriving again.
Needless to say, when the pandemic is over they will experience tremendous growth in multiple markets that perhaps they never had considered before or were afraid to get into.
When it comes to executing on your goals, address each challenge in the moment — that means doing one thing at a time. Don’t let yourself be distracted by other tasks, you’ll have plenty of time to deal with those when “their” moment comes.
In fact, being laser-focused on the task at hand is the best antidote against interference by your ego. By being 100% present in all your actions, you’ll rob your ego from its ability to bombard you with unnecessary and unhelpful thoughts about the past or the future.
The second you find yourself taken out of the present moment, make a strong conscious effort to get back into it. In other words, try to stop any thoughts unrelated to what you’re working on at that moment dead in their tracks.
Granted, this will take practice, but at least now you know the secret. If you and your staff develop this new muscle in everything you do, you’ll be developing a built-in competitive advantage that’ll be really hard to beat!